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On the MyBrownBaby Bookshelf: Dancer


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DANCER, by Lorri Hewett (Dutton Books)

The incredibly intriguing book, Dancer, is a fascinating read about the struggles of a 16-year-old African-American teenager as she pursues her passion for dance. Stephanie is a girl growing up in a low-income, urban area with her mother and father, blue-collar workers who don’t understand her adoration for ballet. They prefer she focus on getting good grades at the private school she attends on scholarship and set he sights on attending an Ivy League school. But for Stephanie, ballet is life—her everything. Things that humiliate, embarrass, worry and trouble her disappear when she is doing what she loves: dancing.

It seems like no one understands or values how much Stephanie adores dancing until she meets Miss Winnie, the aunt of Vance, a fellow dancer in Stephanie’s dance school. Miss Winnie, an extraordinary former dancer who once studied with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, talks to and works with Stephanie and Vance and convinces the two to take class with the Dance Theatre of Harlem while the company is in town for a performance. Stephanie’s life is drastically altered when Miss Winnie comes into her life; she teachers Stephanie a new emotion that she has never experienced before—a new kind of love—and shows her how much potential she has in fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

Although Stephanie is capable of executing her dream, the reality of being a professional African-American ballet dancer is extremely rare, and oftentimes feels impossible to her. Dancer is a book that individuals should consider reading because it’s an uplifting story about a girl who struggles with a plethora of things in her life—physically, emotionally and mentally—but who learns how to overcome discrimination, deal with a budding romance and navigate friendships.

Dancer is for kids ages 12 and up and would appeal to readers who enjoy realistic fiction novels. Individuals who could relate to this book may be people who have had some dance experience or have been around others who are involved with dance.  It would benefit the reader to have some knowledge or understanding of ballet to better grasp the concept of this book, and to more easily connect to Stephanie and her conflicting emotions.

I adored this book because it showed me how to persevere through various obstacles and how the effort is worth it in the end. While reading this book I was able to live the reality of Stephanie’s desire to become a professional dancer and the aptitude necessary to reach her goal. This short, inspiring story will give all those who read it hope to carry out their wildest dreams, even when they seem impossible or rare.

To enhance your child’s learning experience

1. Take her to a dance performance featuring African-American ballerinas, so that she can see real examples of professional dancers who look and are shaped like her. Can’t make it to a performance? Check out Alvin Ailey performances on YouTube.

2. Research the lives of famous African-American choreographers and dancers like Judith Jamison, Katherine Dunham, Savion Glover and The Nicholas Brothers. Consider the obstacles they faced and the inroads they made.

3.  Talk to your child about a special challenge he faces as he pursues something he loves; help him come up with a list of ways to overcome them.

Janelle Herbert is a 13-year-old junior contributor who has penned stories about bullying for MyBrownBaby. She also is a passionate dancer. Janelle lives in New York with her parents.

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